This year I’ve been working steadily on my new book and sharing ideas with people who want to know about the technology revolution. And while it is true we are always learning while on the job, I feel like people in the information business need an off-season as much as professional sportspeople and musicians do. Problem is we don’t tend to plan for it on an annual basis as much as other ‘seasonal industries’ do. Which could lead us into a dangerous pattern of already knowing what we know, or at worst obsolescence through ignorance. The ironic thing is that this exact behaviour pattern is what is causing large corporations to be disrupted. They are so busy doing what they do, making what they make and utilising the assets they already own that they rarely go back to the well.
If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer (like I am) then we need to ensure we don’t get so deep into our work wormhole that we ignore the world around us. Screens and offices are very dangerous places to watch the world from. It’s probably better to make, break and explore a few things outside of our work to ensure we keep our edge.
I remember growing up having people tell me it’s all about who you know in life and business. I always thought it was kinda weird that it could work in your favour by just knowing people who could help you, especially if you happened to be a fool. Surely domain knowledge mattered more? And here is what I found out, they both have value.
But what has even more value is when we use which ever we have more of to improve on the other. This tends to happen when we learn from those we’re lucky enough to know, or use our knowledge to help whoever we meet.
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I was recently in an office where there happened to be a couple of Rubik’s cubes laying around. Once upon a time I wasted an inordinate amount of time learning how to solve it. So I said: “Oh, I can solve that.” Adding further that I could do it in 3 minutes, but my best time is under 2 minutes. The cube was quickly handed to me to prove my lofty statement. So I start the solve, got halfway through and completely forget the algorithm – and in ‘under 3 minutes’ I look like both a fool and a fibber.
It reminded me of something important. Just because we have been able to do something in the past, it doesn’t mean we can do it now. Just because we knew something once, it doesn’t mean we know about it now. They only way to stay on top is to continue to practice and relearn what we already do and know. Just because someone ran a marathon once, doesn’t make them a marathon runner now. The things we need to practice the most should be the things we are already good at. Especially when it is a craft we use for income generation.
So after this embarrassing little moment, I went and bought a new cube and got my mojo back. I’ve also made the decision to solve it once a day – just because it’s fun and worth remembering. A bit of grey matter exercise. And for those doubters out there here it is being solved in 16 seconds… ok ok I sped the film up just a little.
For those who are wondering the current world record time for solving is 5.55 seconds.
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Fake it till you make it – sure you’ve heard that. But have you ever seen a documentary showing it in action? Been a fly on the wall while people make dramatic transitions? There’s an old UK television show aptly called ‘Faking it’. It’s now been off the air for almost 10 years but has serious lessons for entrepreneurs and anyone looking to make a transition.
It is truly inspiring to see what is possible for most anyone with focus, hands on practice and coaching from experts. One of my favourite episodes takes country boy James Sawyer dressed in tweed who speaks with a toffy voice to become a street graffiti artist in a mere 4 weeks. The premise of the show is that his mentor has to get their student up to speed so that they can sit a test, and trick experts who have to pick the ‘faker. The test James had was to go through a live graffiti art contest (pitch if you will), against 3 other actual graffiti artists followed by an interview on the hip hop culture in the hope of to stooging the judges.
It’s worth watching and you can watch it here.
The thing is that we are all faking it, even when we are regarded as an expert in our field. None of us really know anything with absolute certainty. We guess, we estimate, we take a chance, we copy others and we just forge ahead. We should remember this more in life and forget the fear of being called out as a fraud. Most of what we do to make a living or build a startup is not life and death. Getting it wrong wont really matter that much, unless you are building airplanes and bridges. (Airplane and bridge building readers, please ignore this post.) The rest of us should start acting is if we can.
The problem is that I’m not exactly sure what they are. The passing of time is the only thing that will actually reveal them to me. As much I want to avoid making mistakes, I know I’m doing some things right now which will just look silly or uninformed once I look back at them. Last night I was looking back at my life in 5 year increments thinking about the things I’ve done, some of the projects I’ve undertaken and how I would have done things differently in hind sight I look back to what I thought was right 5 years ago, and it seems glaringly obvious what the mistakes are. The interesting part is that it is not a one off. It seems to be true again and again – as every period of time elapses, there in the past lies a set of errors. It’s not like I am graduating from mistake making either – granted, they are not the same mistakes, but the process of making them is yet to desert me.
My history is a constant reminder of the truth. Like everyone, at least I assume, I have clear strategic and tactical vulnerability. I used to worry about it, but now I realise if what I did then, didn’t seem stupid now, then personal growth would not have been possible.
I’m a slow learner. It’s rare that I fully understand things the first time I hear about it. This might even sound ridiculous, but some things I first heard about in primary school and secondary school I’m just starting to comprehend now as a middle age man. Political, social and philosophical lessons I got front teachers, family and friends. I really think that our brains work super hard on everything, all the time, in the back ground while we are busy with the stuff of life.
I had one of these moments yesterday. I was reading this article on bitcoin, which was discussing the genius behind the Blockchain method, referring to the back end complexities and how it might provide a model for a more independent peer to peer based internet. (Well, that’s what I think it was about). The point is that half way through the article, I was like – wow, most of this stuff is way over my head – it must be for smart techie head coding types. But I read it to the end. I’ll probably read it again, and I’ll read the other articles it links to inside of it….. Maybe I’ll understand it in a few years. The point is I’ll leave that to the smart parts of my brain I don’t have personal access to – the secret bits it keeps Steve outside of. I’m sure it’ll come up with something if I leave it alone.
In complex times, this is type of situation is set to become more common. Times when our initial understanding is vague. We shouldn’t let it discourage us. We shouldn’t let it make us give up and stop reading or trying to comprehend it. What we ought do instead, is trust that what we need to know will reveal itself, so long as continue to take in the data and we are patient.
I happened upon 5 things in the past few days – all of which had a certain something. Most of these came from Dan Groch over lunch on Thursday. They inspired some thoughts. So here’s the 5 pieces & the thoughts they each inspired for me:
1. WorryDream – I can’t really explain this other than saying this guy is a genius with genius ideas. Have a wonder through it.
2. Bobby McFerrin plays the audience – Yes, that Bobby McFerrin. He does something so amazing and shows the power of non verbal communications. Wisdom of crowds and the importance of music. Very enjoyable to watch indeed.
3. The inner game of tennis – An amazing visual of how to remove complexity. The simplicity of instruction without thought. How we can actually let our body do the learning once we avoid over intellectualising everything. I’ll be using this technique while surfing and doing anything physical.
4. Digital feudalism and how to avoid it – This in my view is an incredible risk to our species. Shiny things and big brother control from brands we actually love. They’ve already teamed up with the NSA, and we are letting it happen. HT to Josh McDonald for this one.
5. Powerful ideas about ideas – Alan Kay demonstrates some new teaching methods.
Again another reminder that a cheap laptop and the internet are all we need to know all we desire. And I’ll leave you with this simple fact: Anyone who has access to the internet, has more information at their disposal than the US President did just 10 years ago.